Eric Wenger, president of Complete Lawn Care, Inc. in Laytonsville, MD, is one contractor who will be directly affected by the recent pesticide ban that was voted into effect in Montgomery County, MD. The ban will take effect in January of 2018, giving contractors some time to come up with a backup plan with respect to the services they offer and lawn care products they use. Here are Wenger's thoughts on the issue.
Q: What is your reaction to the phased-in pesticide ban?
A: I've been fighting this since it was first introduced a few years ago. My reaction is that it was bad legislation when it was introduced and it's still bad legislation now that it's been passed and adopted. It's going to have the opposite results; it's going to make people unsafe, which is unfortunate.
Q: Do you think people will ignore the ban and continue to apply pesticides?
A: Essentially what's going to happen, because there is no ban on the sale of pesticides, is that they're still going to be available everywhere they've always been available. The difference will be that people will use them and not tell anyone about it.
There's going to be less of a need for people who might have in the past wanted to become a professional, get certified, take the test and follow all the procedures that we've learned to improve application. That's going to be a disincentive for those people; they're going to just apply product and get paid for it. The people who are licensed and registered and have really improved—like myself, my employees and others great companies—and who have spent all of this time registering their employees and training them ... that's all going to be down the drain.
Q: How will the ban impact your company, Complete Lawn Care, and other lawn care companies in the area?
Well it's hard to know this early, so we're not really sure what will happen in that time. Should the ban go into full force, what I have discovered in talking to a lot of my clients is that most of them have said things to the nature of, "If they buy the pesticides and store them at their house, they'll pay us to apply them under the table." We're hearing a lot of that. I tell them that, "No, we're a licensed company," and they've said unequivocally, "Well Eric, we like you very much and you've always provided great service, but if you can't do it I'm not sure that we'll have a need for your service any longer. We're not really interested in the new age organic stuff that doesn't really work, we're interested in results and we know that you've done it for us safely and if you can't provide that then we're going to have to look elsewhere."
So indeed what we expect is a loss of client base, and potentially at that point I'm not sure if we need registered employees. Since most of my clients are in Montgomery County, it doesn’t make sense for me to maintain my licensing for the state of Maryland because there's a lot of expense and cost that goes along with that. It's something that we really have to think about.
Q: Do you have a “backup plan” in the works for the removal of pesticides in the services and products you offer?
For someone like myself who's been involved in the green industry for 35 years, I have seen, studied and learned a lot. Almost 20 years ago I actually introduced an organic program for my company, and we've offered that program ever since. We know how organics work and believe they are valuable tools, but the problem is that there isn't anything to specifically replace a lawn care program.
When you look at some of these products that are available organically, they don't really provide the results clients expect—and they're quite pricey. So the backup plan doesn't really matter, it's not a question of "you old dinosaurs, you refuse to change." Most of us in our business are well educated and understand horticulture and turfgrass science. So we know what the benefits of organic are, but we also know what the limitations are. You can't really overcome the limitations. So the backup plan will be to continue to do a sound program, with the understanding that we're going to lose control of weeds. It's going to be a bit of a challenge, maybe not right away, but several years after you lose these products, I'm not sure that there are any organics that will take their place.
One of the things I wonder about is this: They talked about exemptions in the hearing where they voted. They said that if there's a pest problem, applicators might be able to make an application and then file a report within seven days. So it might be, for example, if we had a grub problem we could make the pesticide application and then just file a report with the county to say that we treated these grubs on this lawn and this is why we did it. So I'm not sure how that's going to work.